Divorce is the final, legal termination of a marriage by court order. If you have a divorce case in court, you may hear lawyers and court staff refer to it as matrimonial action. The individual who initiates the divorce is named the plaintiff, and the other spouse is named the defendant. A divorce can be complicated, and disputes over children and property may cause them to become even more complicated. Representing yourself in such cases may not be recommended.
Although you decide whether and how you utilize a lawyer in your divorce, the law does permit you to do your divorce by yourself, known as proceeding pro se. Another option is to hire an attorney to do only part of your divorce. This is known as Limited Scope Representation.
You should be aware that these forms and instructions are intended only for divorce cases where:
- There are no children who are under the age of 19, and none are expected by you or your spouse;
- This implies that you are not pregnant, your spouse is not pregnant, you have not had any children born to you during the marriage, your spouse has not had any children born to them during the marriage. There were no children adopted by you or your spouse during the marriage;
- All of the children you and your spouse have had or adopted together are 19 or older;
- There is no real property (real estate), nor an ongoing business being managed by one of the parties, and all other property has or can be divided without argument;
- The parties are aware of all debts incurred during the marriage and have or will be able to agree on who will pay off each debt;
- Neither party has a pension or retirement plan with his or her present employer, or from a past employer; and
- There will be no request for alimony.
Who Can File for A Divorce?
It is important to note that either partner in a marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership can file for divorce. For instance, in New Jersey as long as at least one member of the couple resides in the state they may file. If you formed a domestic partnership or a civil union in New Jersey but now live elsewhere, you might not be able to dissolve the relationship legally in your new state. In that case, you may file in the New Jersey county where the civil union or partnership took place.
The decision to file for divorce can be overwhelming and having to work through the legal process on your own makes it even more challenging. For this reason, the court suggests that people considering filing for divorce, or those who are responding to a divorce complaint, seek legal counsel if they can do so.
How Does A Divorce Get Granted?
You are responsible for preparing the final decree to complete your case. Check the local regulations in your state regarding divorce laws to find the specific information. There are three different ways that a final divorce decree can be granted:
- By Default: If the Defendant was served with the summons and complaint about divorce but did not file any paperwork within 21 days, the Plaintiff can request the court to enter a default and grant a final divorce. Plaintiff will usually receive a Decree of Divorce that includes everything needed for the complaint. Fill out all of the forms below to finalize your case this way;
- By Agreement: If both parties reach an agreement on all terms of the divorce after the case has been filed, they can prepare a final Decree of divorce with their full agreement attached. The defendant must file an Answer and pay the filing fee to do this. Both parties must sign the Decree of Divorce and may submit the Decree to the judge for approval without a hearing and;
- Granted at a Trial or Hearing: When the judge grants a divorce at a trial or a hearing, the judge will decide all of the final orders. However, the divorce is not final until the written Decree of Divorce is signed by the judge. Usually, the judge informs one party to “prepare the decree.”
How Do I Obtain the Final Approvement of the Divorce Decree?
States will differ on the procedural process and filling forms. But, you can search on the local state website regarding family law to figure out the exact details needed for your case. In general, here are some ways to receive the final approval by the courts:
- Fill out the proper forms: There are several forms you have to fill out to have the judge finalize your case;
- File the forms promptly either by mail or e-filing;
- Submit the Divorce Decree to the Judge: Turn in a proposed Divorce Decree to the judge to sign. The Decree of Divorce is the final order that encompasses all the terms of the divorce. How you fill out the Decree of Divorce will depend on how you are receiving the final decree: For a default Decree: Everything in your proposed Decree of Divorce should match everything you requested for in your complaint. If both parties are signing the Decree, it must include all of the agreements between you and your spouse. It is necessary to sign the Decree of Divorce and;
- File the Notice of Entry of Order and serve the other party. You have to serve the other party with a copy of the final order.
Keep in mind some of these processes for an adequate filing. A Default is required if Defendant did not file an answer within 21 days of being served. A plaintiff must complete the default form and submit it to the Clerk’s Office for approval. You must fill in the date the Defendant was served on this form (check the Affidavit of Service for the date). If Defendant was served by publication, the date of service is generally the last date listed under the publication dates on the Affidavit of Publication.
If a hearing or trial took place, everything in your proposed Decree of Divorce must match what the judge ordered at your hearing. You can obtain a copy of the “minutes” from your hearing from the Court Records department. It is crucial to double-check that everything included in the minutes is mentioned in the proposed Decree of Divorce.
How Do I Finalize a Divorce?
The divorce can be finalized either by going to court for a final hearing or by giving the court papers showing that you and your spouse have mutually agreed. The court will:
- Terminate the marriage;
- Divide the marital property and debts (usually on a 50-50% basis);
- Issue custody, visitation, and child support orders for children of the marriage and;
- The former wife can get her maiden or previous name back as part of the divorce.
The court may also issue other orders such as counseling, spousal maintenance, or protective orders. Typically, courts cannot modify the order concerning property and debts after the divorce is completed. The court can sometimes alter orders concerning child custody, visitation, and child support.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you are in the last stages of your divorce, it is suggested you seek out a local divorce attorney to assist you in finalizing your divorce to ensure that all issues have been covered.